The following is excerpted from Agony: a proposal, a work-in-progress. The book is a proposal. What is proposed is a game, Agony, wherein three teams (each made up of five persons, known as Pioneers) compete. The victorious team is rewarded with a life in luxurious exile (an island known as Laughter), and the losing teams are executed. The book proposes, beyond the game itself, a certain relationship between the game and the society that watches it on television (it is only ever seen on television, as no one is allowed to attend the game). The following section concerns The Lunatic, one of the five caretakers of Agony, known as Country Doctors. One might think of the Country Doctors as the high priests of Agony. Their appointment removes them from society completely. They live alone at the site of the game and have only themselves for company, as they tend to the teams and the rituals that prepare them for play.
3.1 The Lunatic
Dionysus does not control our women’s modesty in love;
Let us consider whether this chastity we prize
Is really suitable to a woman’s nature.
—Euripides, The Bacchae
The Very First Lunatic
The very first Lunatic is not referred to as The Lunatic. She is known, after her election and unto her Death, as Mommy. She is elected by popular vote. Five candidates run. Only Landlords are allowed to vote; every Landlord gets just one vote.
The five Mommy-candidates are chosen randomly from a pool. This Mommy-pool is made up of all persons who meet the following criteria: a) between 24 and 34 years old; b) acquired a Doctorate from one of the top 300 Universities in one or more of the following disciplines: History, Archaeology, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, or Physics; c) female, no living children.
Once the five Mommy-candidates have been randomly selected, they are abducted by Game Officials and brought to The Frontier. At The Frontier, they are sequestered in different rooms, and do not meet or in any way get to know one another. Their luxurious seclusion lasts for 180 days; Mommy-candidates have access, in this time, to everything Pioneers, in their Westward journey, have access to, save the opportunity to touch or talk with others.
After 90 days, one Mommy-candidate is subjected to a televised interview. The following day, a second candidate is subjected to the same interview, and so on, until all five have made their appearance. This interview process—spanning five days—is known as The Capitulation. The Capitulation, like Agony itself, is broadcast live to all Parlor Screens, and not at all to Home Screens; all of its interviews are conducted by the same interviewer, who poses the same questions to each candidate.
The Capitulation is commemorated with ornate dishes, each of which features the likeness of one or another of the Mommy-candidates. Said dishes are released in limited quantities for Nameless Souls to purchase and own. They are very expensive. The ones that turn out to be Mommy herself are worth quite a bit.
On each plate, in addition to the likeness of a Mommy-candidate, there is a quotation:
Dionysus does not control our women’s modesty in love;
Let us consider whether this chastity we prize
Is really suitable to a woman’s nature.
—Euripides, The Bacchae
During her Capitulation interview, each candidate stands naked and alone in The Heart Of All That Is Not Contagious. Questions are put to her through a speaker in the ceiling. If the candidate is deaf, Nameless Souls are informed of this fact, and so, do not mistake her responses for answers to the questions.
A Mommy-candidate does not see or hear the other Mommy-candidates’ interviews. When her interview has been completed, she is re-sequestered in her luxurious room until all the Mommy-candidates have been interviewed.
Mommy-candidate number one is known as Number One, Mommy-candidate number two is known as Number Two, etc….
The election itself occurs 15 days after The Capitulation has been completed. The day of Mommy’s election is known as Berf.
Between the completion of The Capitulation and Berf—in those 14 days—Mommy-candidates are allowed to meet and live with one another as if they were a Pioneer Family.
During the twenty days between the start of The Capitulation and Berf—which is to say, the entire course of the Mommy campaign—there is no media coverage of the upcoming election, save to say when the election is to take place and at what location a Landlord might vote, should he wish to do so. Mention of the Mommy-candidates themselves in the media is highly illegal; such discussion takes place only among the Nameless Souls in their daily lives. Anyone found using media to disseminate his knowledge or opinion of a potential Mommy is arrested and prosecuted as a Meddler.
During The Capitulation, the questions put to the Mommy-candidates are as follows:
explain the circumstances surrounding your birth;
explain your experience of childhood;
why do you think you have you been so sure of yourself?
how have your parents affected you?
if you had the chance to decide, how would you live out the rest of your life?
why did you choose to pursue your particular course of study?
how would you describe the sun to someone who was raised in a bunker deep underground?
did you have any pets before The Capitulation called you into service?—if so, please provide names and descriptions.
how do you feel about being called Mommy?
Mommy-candidates are not forced to reply. If a question is asked and there is one minute of silence (or no demonstrated intention to reply sensibly), the interviewer moves on to the next question. The candidate may choose to answer none of the questions that are put to her; this is a perfectly viable strategy on her part. Voters in this case will have to judge her by her naked body (which she cannot help but put into evidence) and by the manner of her silences and/or non-language sounds. Also the expressions that register on her face may be used to judge her viability. The candidate may behave however she likes during the interview; she may answer seriously or sarcastically; she may mumble, scream, put out her eyes, masturbate—her campaign is utterly her own.
Illustration of a mid-forties woman—caption: Mommy candidate.
Capitulation etiquette demands that the next question always be postponed until the candidate has finished her reply to the question at hand. It is conceivable that a candidate could talk for the whole hour in reply to the first question. If, on the other hand, a candidate says little or nothing in her replies, all of the questions might be exhausted long before the hour is up; in this case, there are simply no more questions posed and the camera remains fixed upon the candidate, who, again, is free to do as she pleases in the questionlessness she finds herself treated/burdened with.
Mommy And The Original Smut Peddlers
When it becomes apparent who Mommy is, those who might have been Mommy (but aren’t) are exiled to Laughter, where they live out the rest of their days as The Original Smut Peddlers. Given this potential for a luxurious care-free life apart from Agony, it is quite possible that Mommy will not have intended to be Mommy. Mommy’s aura, subsequently, is always somehow tinged with reticence, no matter how she handled her campaign, and no matter how she governs when she gets to The Frontier.
How Mommy will be is impossible to predict. The difficulty lies in the fact that there will be just one—forever, just one.
The Original Smut Peddlers are distinguished from subsequent Smut Peddlers in that they—The Original Smut Peddlers—are never involved in the yearly Smut Peddler film (this film is discussed below). Instead, they gather once each year for a televised discussion. This hour is known as The Original Smut Peddler Power Hour.
During The Original Smut Peddler Power Hour, the Original Smut Peddlers respond to just one question: how have you been? The show is meant to be a gentle discussion-space for the few women who might have become Mommy (but didn’t), and who therefore live together in Laughter. The hope of The Original Smut Peddler Power Hour is that The Original Smut Peddlers will share what’s been happening between them in Laughter. The Original Smut Peddler Power Hour airs once each year until all of the Original Smut Peddlers are deceased.
When all four Original Smut Peddlers have died, The Original Smut Peddler Power Hour becomes The Smut Peddler Death Hour. This new show airs in the same time slot as The Original Smut Peddler Power Hour. The Smut Peddler Death Hour features the four oldest (Unoriginal) Smut Peddlers discussing the most recent Smut Peddler Deaths, and the lives these newly dead once lived in Laughter.
Mommy is taken, upon election, to her own private Mind, known as Freedom. Freedom is Mommy’s (and subsequently The Lunatic’s) private residence beneath The Frontier. Freedom is a suite of plush but simple rooms.
Mommy is well-fed and well provided for in terms of medical care (should she need or desire it). If she dies before she is able to retire, she is buried in Dumb Worship by the other Country Doctors. She remains in her position until she is Impeached, dies, or goes into retirement. If she retires, she is delivered over into Laughter, where she proceeds to live out the rest of her days as The One True Smut Peddler. The One True Smut Peddler has no special powers in Laughter, except the power to join The Original Smut Peddlers in The Smut Peddler Power Hour, should any still be alive when she retires. She is not required to join them. (Mommy’s Impeachment process and her eligibility for retirement are described below.)
As The First Lunatic (though one never calls Mommy a Lunatic), Mommy has the same duties and privileges as every Lunatic fated to follow her.
Every Lunatic is, first and foremost, the shepherd of Being. Secondly, she is The Frontier’s chief groundskeeper. She is not, however, an employee of The Casino. The Casino does not have any employees at all, outside of Yahweh. The Casino exists so briefly as to be almost exempted from need of employees. The Casino takes care of itself. It is only its Closing that asks help from Yahweh and Little Fuadie. The Casino depends upon the health of The Frontier the way a virus depends upon the continuing life of its host.
The Lunatic is appointed by Mommy, once. Then The Lunatic is forever appointed by The Lunatic.
Should The Lunatic die while still residing at The Frontier, she is cremated by Game Officials and returned to The Frontier in a large unmarked glass bottle, custom blown to contain precisely the amount of ashes she reduced to. This bottle is known as her Desire. Yahweh buries her Desire in Dumb Worship that same day.
Prior to each Agony, The Lunatic is responsible for placing Being in the center of The Cemetery. This act is a big deal. It carries the immensity of the impending Agony. The Lunatic always feels freakish when she feels how easily she carries this immensity.
When Being has entered into Saying (or when Hysterics has occurred), The Lunatic is responsible for retrieving Being and taking it back to Freedom. Being is easily retrieved when it has entered into Saying. Yahweh, at The Lunatic’s request, simply presses a button on The Universal Remote and the Saying in which Being rests slowly lifts Being up into range of The Lunatic’s grasp. The Lunatic takes Being back into Freedom immediately. Only after she has done this can she go down into The Heart Of All That Is Not Contagious, where The Glutton and The Torso-Painter wait for her. Then all three ascend to begin the work of heaving Toys into The-Land-Of-Toys-And-Vague-Gestures-And-What-There-Is-Between-Them.
Nameless Souls assume that The Lunatic spends at least some her time peering into The Future. And perhaps she pauses before she puts Being back into The Future. Perhaps she holds Being in her lap, as if she herself was The Future. It would only be possible for her to do this in the first 48 hours of her having Being again in her possession. When these hours have expired, Being must be back in The Future, and must remain there until the next Big Day. The Future, once it is in possession of Being, knows when Being has been touched. If Being is touched at the wrong time. The penalty for untimely removal of Being is Impeachment. This is known as: Impeachment For Being.
The Lunatic can peer into The Future anytime she likes; what she cannot do—except at the appointed times—is to touch Being.
As the lone shepherd of Being, The Lunatic is the only Country Doctor—indeed, the only person on earth—who ever has easy and complete access to Being. The Lunatic’s access to Being, that is, is not only quantitatively different from the access that is had by others—it is qualitatively different. Only The Lunatic is ever unhindered in the opportunity to take Being into her two hands, for instance. Only The Lunatic may sleep with Being beside her. Only The Lunatic’s relationship to Being is ever characterized by physical proximity and casual forgetfulness. The Lunatic is able to enter into a relationship with Being without risking her life, and that fact, of course, underlies all of the superficially apparent differences a Nameless Soul might imagine.
If there is ever a problem with Being—such as stains or chipping (the latter is very unlikely)—The Lunatic is responsible for fixing it. In most cases, this means simply wiping Being with a firm hand, or having to apply a small amount of white paint. The Lunatic is given explicit detailed instructions regarding how to apply this very special white paint to damaged Being.
The Future keeps Being from harm when no one is in Agony.
The Lunatic and the Lunatic alone is in possession of The Future, and Being is in The Future so long as it is not in Agony.
As the highest-ranking of The Country Doctors, The Lunatic has the power, so long as she lives and is not retired, to hire (from various pools established by criteria discussed below) and to Excommunicate the Country Doctors who work beneath her. Also, she submits and maintains a private list of five Nameless Souls (listed in order of preference, and chosen from a pool of eligible candidates to be discussed below) from which her replacement, the new Lunatic, shall be appointed.
The new Lunatic never suspects that she was slated to become the new Lunatic, even if she understands that pursuit of her particular degree made it a remote possibility.
Illustration of a mid-fifties woman—caption: The Lunatic.
Impeachment: The Lunatic’s Terrible Privilege
If the approval rating for The Lunatic is below 25% for two days in a row, she is Impeached. Impeachment means she is immediately removed from power and replaced by a new Lunatic.
Only Landlords are entrusted with the Lunatic’s Impeachment vote because only Landlords are experienced enough with Agony to make such an important decision, and because Landlords are Nameless Souls for whom playing is no longer a possibility.
The Impeached Lunatic is treated like an Excommunicated Glutton, except her Television, instead of playing The Andy Griffith Show, plays Michael Jackson’s Thriller video over and over in an endless loop. The Impeached Lunatic, that is, has an even more depraved and redundant existence than an Excommunicated Glutton. She is expected to send for the clown right quick.
The Lunatic has good reason to dread Impeachment, and will naturally do all she can to avoid it. This means treating the other Country Doctors fairly and tending passionately to Agony and all that precedes it.
Nameless Souls understand that voting to Impeach a current Lunatic is a grave act—an act that should never be taken lightly. The Lunatic should be given the benefit of the doubt as often as is possible, and Impeachment should be an exceedingly rare event, a last-ditch protective measure for the realm of Nameless Souls.
To live in a society that forces a Lunatic to move to The Big City is a terrible thing. One recoils from the thought of her residing in those conditions.
Boning: The Lunatic’s Pursuit Of Gratitude
The Lunatic, should she wish to retire, must submit herself to a Boning. In a Boning, she makes a live appearance on Hearsay Broadcasting Network so that she might ask Nameless Souls (Landlords, specifically) to grant her a dignified retirement to Laughter.
The Lunatic can submit herself for a Boning up to three times in her life. She can apply only once in an Agony-year, and on only one day: the day after an Agony has taken place.
The Boning itself occurs one day after it has been requested, at 8 p.m. The process of the Boning is as follows. The Lunatic who is desirous of a Boning must, on the day of an Agony (i.e. anytime before midnite), inform Game Officials of her desire; the next day, at 8 a.m., the Boning is announced to Nameless Souls, who subsequently have twelve hours to prepare themselves to take it in.
A Boning takes place in The Heart Of All That Is Not Contagious. Naked and alone, The Lunatic stands in the center of the room and makes her case for retirement. Her appearance is not marred by Eternity.
A Boning is a trickier task than it might at first seem to be. That is, A Lunatic knows that she should not ask for a Boning unless she has has given a proper amount of her life to the caretaking of Agony. A Lunatic who has presided over Agony for a long time in a dignified way—this is a Lunatic who may feel confident in her pursuit of a Boning.
A Boning never lasts very long. A First Boning lasts for thirty minutes. (While The Lunatic need not plead her case for the whole of the thirty minutes, she is required to stand in the center of The Heart Of All That Is Not Contagious for that whole time. A Lunatic who gets to the point where she cannot stand for thirty minutes has waited too long to ask for a Boning.) A Second Boning lasts for fifteen minutes. A Third Boning lasts for five minutes. To make the case for her retirement—her inability to go on as a proper Lunatic—should not be difficult. This is not to say that Nameless Souls will agree with her; it is only to say that it is not difficult to make a case.
When A Boning is complete, all Landlords are eligible to vote for or against it. They have one week to register their vote at the appropriate poling place. When all the votes have been tabulated, The Lunatic is informed of the result. Retirement is granted if she has received more yes votes than no votes.
After a successful Boning, the retired Lunatic waits at The Frontier for the arrival of the new Lunatic. Once she has met the new Lunatic, she calls for Despair, which takes her into Laughter. If The Lunatic’s Boning is not successful, she remains responsible for all her regular duties.
A Boning is most often decided by the health of The Lunatic in question. The Lunatic’s health, however, is difficult to guage. Diagnosis of her ailments is completely dependent upon The Glutton, whose medical expertise is typically limited. Before her election, she worked as a family practicioner—indeed, her election transfered her from one family practice to another. (The Glutton’s limitations, medically speaking, are detailed below.)
The Lunatic’s five potential replacements are chosen from a pool of applicants who meet the following criteria: a) between 24 and 34 years old; b) possesses a Doctorate from one of the top 300 Universities in one or more of the following disciplines: Archaeology, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, Math, or Physics; c) is female.
The Lunatic is informed by Game Officials when any of the replacement-candidates dies or becomes too old to be appointed to the job; the list is kept up to date—always five to choose from.
A Boning can also be requested and never really happen. The Lunatic, that is, can request a Boning and then withdraw her request anytime before 8 a.m. the next day, which is when it would have been announced to Nameless Souls. This phenomenon is known as a Phantom Boner, and it counts as one of The Lunatic’s three applications.
Phantom Boners are more common than one would think.
But why on earth would The Lunatic ever withdraw her request for a Boning? Having expended the request, why not at least see its result?
A Phantom Boner is in some ways just a Failed Boning, which is the term used to describe a Boning which results in a rejection of The Lunatic’s application. The biggest difference is that Phantom Boners occur in private, and remain private, whereas a Failed Boning is the most public failure a Lunatic can suffer, short of Impeachment. A Lunatic may fear a Failed Boning more than she fears the secret expenditure of her store of applications. Phantom Boners may thus occur.
Phantom Boners often occur when a Lunatic’s desire to be at last in Laughter overmatches the concern she has about her popularity in the realm of Nameless Souls. The overmatched concern eventually—usually just a few hours later, in the middle of the night—rebuilds itself as an even stronger force, putting her desire for Laughter in a more entitled light.
Most Lunatics have from zero to one Phantom Boner. Even so, it is obviously possible for a Lunatic to have two Phantom Boners. Phantom Boners may even occur on successive days. Such an occurrence calls into question the sanity of The Lunatic.
A Lunatic can only have two Phantom Boners. Should she apply a third time for Boning, she is not allowed to withdraw her request, and the Boning most certainly airs. Nameless Souls are not informed of Phantom Boners, of course, which means that they never really know how many more applications a Lunatic has. A Lunatic may confess, during a Boning, to having had a Phantom Boner (or Phantom Boners) in the past, but Nameless Souls have no way of knowing whether she is telling the truth. On the whole, Nameless Souls do not like when a Lunatic talks about having had Phantom Boners. They feel that Phantom Boners are a private matter. And given the impossibility of verification, how could they fail to see her claim as the act of a manipulative Lunatic?
The Lunatic who has two Phantom Boners is a Lunatic who should probably not apply for her third until she is certain that she has earned the respect of Nameless Souls. Three Failed Bonings would doom her to Impeachment or Death on The Frontier.
A Lunatic who grows quite old and does not ask for a Boning is always suspected of having had Phantom Boners.